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Starting five: Thoughts on the Celtics’ struggles through season’s first five days 12.29.11 at 10:13 pm ET
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Doc Rivers called Jermaine O'Neal the MVP of camp, but he's contributed almost nothing through three games. (AP)

Last Friday, before leaving for their Christmas day showdown against the Knicks, Celtics coach Doc Rivers joked that the media would have to calm fans down if his team started the season slowly. Unfortunately for Rivers, Boston’s first three games have left the team winless, with the very panic that Rivers seemed to anticipate ensuing.

Perhaps the most glaring issue through three games is Boston’s proclivity to fall behind early in contests. The Celtics have trailed by sizable margins at the half in each of their three games, the smallest deficit being nine.

Although Boston displayed strong fortitude against both Miami and New York — finding itself within striking distance in the last two minutes of each game after falling behind by double-digits — they know playing catchup is not a winning recipe.

“All the teams were the aggressors initially,” back-up guard Keyon Dooling told reporters Wednesday night, following the team’s loss to New Orleans. “We were on our heels trying to bounce back. We can’t be that type of team. We have to be a hit-first team if we want to be successful.”

Boston showed some of Dooling’s “hit-first” mentality against the Hornets, jumping out to a 9-2 advantage. However, playing in the second game of a back-to-back caught up to the Celtics, as New Orleans finished the first quarter on a 22-9 run. “We played tired,” Rivers told reporters. “We looked tired. It happens.”

Another alarming trend is overall team defense. In the previous four years of the new “Big Three” era, Boston has allowed an average of 92.6 points per game. Meanwhile, this season the Celtics are allowing 106 points per game. Looking even closer, the Celtics gave up 60 or more points in the first half only four times last season. This season Boston allowed 62 points in the first half against New York, and followed that performance by giving up 69 points through 24 minutes two days later in Miami. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Brandon Bass, Glen Davis, Greg Stiemsma, Jermaine O'Neal Print  |  Email  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
Brandon Bass is comfortable with his role 12.16.11 at 1:11 pm ET
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Brandon Bass is excited to join the Celtics. (AP)

Last season while playing with the Magic, Brandon Bass was the only low-post presence alongside Dwight Howard. The Magic roster had size beyond Bass and Howard in the frontcourt, but Ryan Anderson and Hedo Turkoglu are swingmen with a proclivity to hang around the three point line rather then big bangers battling in the trenches.

Consequently, Bass has proven he isn’t afraid to take on other big men in the paint, and he will need to do so with the Celtics. The lack of depth up front is more than evident. “I’d love to grow a little bit,” coach Doc Rivers joked at practice yesterday. “I think [the players'] growth spurts are done, at least upward.”

The scarcity of size on the roster means Bass will need to contribute substantial minutes both at the power forward and center position despite being only 6-foot-8.  ”That’s the role I’ve played my whole career,” he said. “Even in Dallas I played [power forward] and [center]. I’m comfortable playing both [positions].”

When Bass suits up for the Celtics in Madison Square Garden opening day on Christmas, he will start a new chapter in his career — playing on his fourth team in his seventh season. His nomadic path has not deterred his attitude or goals to win a NBA championship.

“With hard work and dedication [settling with a team] will take care of itself,” Bass said. “I envision myself hopefully helping this team win a championship.”

One of the biggest challenges presented by the lockout is whether players can adjust to their new teammates in a shortened training camp. Bass praised the Celtics’ veteran core for making the transition easier. “Walking into a new environment,” he said, “I felt a little uncomfortable. But all the guys – Kevin [Garnett], Paul [Pierce], Ray [Allen] – quickly made me feel at home.”

Bass was acquired in a sign-and-trade deal that send Glen Davis and Von Wafer to Orlando. Bass and Davis are different players, but will likely play similar roles. While they posted similar numbers, Bass is a better shooter and a more efficient offensive player.

Bass was drawn to the celebrated history of the Celtics. “Walking in the locker room, seeing the pictures on the wall of legends that played here was a great feeling,” he said and he hopes before his time is over in Boston, he can help add another championship to the rafters.

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Celtics free agent options at power forward redux 12.02.11 at 5:32 pm ET
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Welcome to the fifth and final part of this week’s daily post-NBA lockout position-by-position breakdown of free agent options available to the Celtics. We’ve profiled the C’s biggest needs – at center and shooting guard — as well as two other critical positions (backup point guards and small forwards), so we move to the final piece of Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge’s puzzle: Backup Power Forwards.

The Celtics started this past season with a surefire Hall of Fame four in Kevin Garnett, and backed him up with a Sixth Man of the Year candidate in Glen Davis. The C’s version of assistant to the assistant regional manager rotated from Luke Harangody to “We Hardly Knew Ye” Chris Johnson to Troy Murphy, with a dabble of Jeff Green, who played the four for the Thunder but is more suited to the three on the Celtics. Got all that? Good.

As we’ve noted  before, the Celtics have six players under contract in 2011-12 for a combined $64.3 million (Garnett, $21.2 million; Paul Pierce, $15.33 million; Ray Allen, $10 million; Rajon Rondo, $10 million; Jermaine O’Neal, $6.23 million; Avery Bradley, $1.53 million), and should match any offer Green receives — unless another team far exceeds his qualifying offer of $5.9 million.

Davis and Murphy are free agents, and while they might sound like a buddy cop duo from Dublin, they’re actually both pretty darn good for second and third options at the four. The addition of first-round pick JaJuan Johnson — a 6-foot-10 senior power forward out of Purdue — likely makes a Murphy-type expendable. But even with Garnett, Green and Johnson expected to be on the 2011-12 roster, the Celtics should seek one more power forward option, in case Johnson isn’t ready and to leave Green on the wing.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at the options available to the Celtics at backup power forward, separating the current free agent players into four categories and forgetting about David West, because that ain’t happening.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Jackie MacMullan on M&M: Veteran teams play well in shortened seasons 11.29.11 at 1:30 pm ET
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ESPN.com’s Jackie MacMullan joined Mut & Merloni to give her thoughts on the Celtics and how they will fare now that the union and the owners have come to a tentative agreement to end the NBA lockout. Boston is set to face the Knicks on Christmas day in the first game of a shortened 66-game season.

MacMullan pointed to the 1999 NBA season, which was shortened to 50 games due to another lockout, and how older teams like the Spurs, the Magic and the Knicks were among the best in the league.

“You look at who came out of that shortened ’99 season, it was all veteran teams,” MacMullan said. “The Orlando Magic had one of the oldest teams in the league, the New York Knicks were dragging Patrick Ewing along and of course the San Antonio Spurs, who ended up winning the whole thing. They didn’t do well in those back-to-back-to-back games, in fact they did somewhat poorly, the older teams.

“But over the long haul, you had a bunch of veterans. Do you think anyone needs to tell Kevin Garnett how to stay in shape during the lockout? Do you think anyone needs to tell Ray Allen? And I would daresay even Paul Pierce has figured it out at this point. So the veteran teams tend to do well in these shortened seasons because they know what it takes not just to get into shape, but to stay in shape as the lockout goes along.”

While many think that the Celtics’ window to win another championship has closed, MacMullan said that the team has the ingredients to still be a contender.

“These guys know how to do it, they play the kind of defense that can get it done,” MacMullan said. “The question of course we always have with them is, can they score enough points? Because they really do get bogged down offensively.”

Following are more highlights from the conversation. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

On what moves the Celtics will make before the start of the season: “I think it will be small moves. They have a core that they can try to go out a win. Don’t laugh, I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried going after Grant Hill one more time, another old guy, a veteran that Doc loves and I think would be great in their locker room. They need a big body. My guess is they’ll go for a defensive type of center, like Kendrick Perkins, who’s going to cost them less money. Maybe a Joel Przybilla, his name has been out there. Do they go after a young, athletic guy like Al Thornton? They might.

“I was intrigued with one thing. Greg Oden is a restricted free agent in Portland. We know about his terrible, terrible foot problems. Do you take a flyer on him, one that doesn’t cost you a ton of money? My guess is whatever you did Portland would match it. But I just go all the way back to when we thought the Celtics might have a No. 1 pick, they were in the Greg Oden camp. Not the Kevin Durant pick, and by the way, that’s true of 99 percent of the people in the NBA at that time. So do you take a shot at Greg Oden? I don’t know. I doubt you overpay for him. You maybe overplay a little, but I doubt you throw big, big bucks at him and my guess is Portland would match no matter what. But he’s just a guy to throw out there because if he could at all be healthy, he’d really help you.”

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How the proposed CBA affects the Celtics: Free agency 11.28.11 at 12:01 am ET
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While we wait for the players and owners to ratify a new collective bargaining agreement, we’ll be taking a look at how various parts of the proposal could affect the Celtics. If you’d like to check out the full proposal, SI’s Sam Amick obtained a copy and posted it here.

First up: Free agency

I. CAP EXCEPTIONS

Let’s establish a couple of realities for the Celtics this season. 1. They will be over the cap. 2. They will be at or near the luxury tax.

This is important because there are new realities for tax teams in the proposed CBA, the biggest being the use of the mid-level exception. Under the old agreement any team could use the full MLE amount on one or more players. That’s how the Celtics were able to sign James Posey and Eddie House in 2007 and Rasheed Wallace (2009) and Jermaine O’Neal (2010) even though they were over the cap. They also used what’s known as the bi-annual exception to sign Marquis Daniels in 2009.

Here’s what’s different (quoted directly from the proposal).

  • Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception: Set at $5M in years 1 and 2, growing 3% annually thereafter; maximum contract length of 4 years; can be used every year.
  • Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception: Set at $3M in year 1, growing 3% annually thereafter; maximum contract length of 3 years; can be used every year.
  • Bi-Annual Exception can only be used by non-taxpayers. Amount set at $1.9M in year 1, growing 3% annually thereafter. Exception cannot be used in 2 consecutive years and has maximum contract length of 2 years (same as under 2005 CBA).

Assuming the Celtics will be a tax team, they would have to use the smaller MLE and would lose the ability to use the bi-annual exception. There’s another wrinkle here as reported by SI’s Zach Lowe:

“Every team can use the full mid-level exception, provided doing so does not take the team more than $4 million over the tax line. If you use the full mid-level to get to or approach that barrier looming $4 million over the tax line, you cannot cross it by re-signing your own free agents via Larry Bird Rights.”

This gets a little complicated but the takeaway is the Celtics probably couldn’t use the full MLE and re-sign Jeff Green and/or Glen Davis.

So, it seems likely that team president Danny Ainge will be looking for free agent help armed with only the $3 million exception and the veterans minimum to attract free agents. That’s not the worst thing in the world because Ainge would like to keep the books clean for next summer and the last thing he needs is a $5 million contract hanging out on their balance sheet. There will also be lots of veteran players looking for contracts on Dec. 9 who might be willing to sign on for one year with a contender.

II. CONTRACT LENGTHS AND BIRD RIGHTS

  • Maximum contract length of 5 years for Bird players and 4 years for other free agents.
  • Maximum annual increases of 7.5% for Bird and Early Bird players, and 4.5% for other players.
  • Period for a player’s prior team to match an Offer Sheet that a Restricted Free Agent receives from a new team shortened from 7 to 3 days. (NOTE: The last bullet point affects Green as a restricted free agent.)

As before, players can get the best return by re-signing with their teams when they hit free agency. Of the Celtics’ free agents, three have the most value: Green, Davis and Delonte West.

The question for Ainge is how much value do they represent to the Celtics, not just for this year but beyond? One of the late tweaks to the proposal was keeping the sign-and-trade option. Beyond that, teams can use the sign-and-trade mechanism for the next two years regardless of their cap and tax situation. Here’s the language:

  • Except during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons, teams are prohibited from acquiring a free agent in a sign-and-trade if their team salary post-transaction would exceed the tax level by more than $4 million. The maximum contract length for a sign-and-trade is 4 years, and maximum annual increases are 4.5%.

Davis, in particular, could have value in a sign-and-trade.

III. AMNESTY CUTS

This is a big one to watch because there could be a handful of players hitting the open market who might be willing to go to a team like the Celtics — or the Lakers, Heat, etc.

Here’s the rule:

  • Each team permitted to waive 1 player prior to any season of the CBA (only for contracts in place at the inception of the CBA) and have 100% of the player’s salary removed from team salary for Cap and Tax purposes.

The only Celtic who could potentially fit in this scenario would be Jermaine O’Neal who has one year and $6.2 million left on his deal. That could potentially allow them to use the full MLE, but seems unlikely considering the short time he has left under contract and the reality that cutting the only legitimate center on a team that needs at least one, if not two more centers would be a major risk.

Here’s the potentially crazy part:

  • A modified waiver process will be utilized for players waived pursuant to the Amnesty rule, under which teams with Room under the Cap can submit competing offers to assume some but not all of the player’s remaining contract. If a player’s contract is claimed in this manner, the remaining portion of the player’s salary will continue to be paid by the team that waived him.

In other words, teams that are under the cap would get first crack at Amnesty players via waivers. That adds a whole other layer of intrigue to the process, but if the player passes through waivers he’d become an unrestricted free agent and you can bet the Celtics will be watching this list intently for unexpected bargains.

Free agency is tentatively scheduled to begin on Dec. 9, the same date as training camps will open. It will make for a hectic period of player movement and with so many roster spots available, the Celtics will be scrambling to fill those vacancies. If form holds, it seems likely Ainge will be looking to fill the roster gaps with a mix of veterans on short-term contracts.

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Irish Coffee: Paul Pierce faces unwarranted criticism 11.15.11 at 3:00 pm ET
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I understand why role players would just want to accept the most recent NBA owners’ proposal, regardless of whether or not it benefits them or others just like them beyond the 2011-12 season.

But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

As longtime NBA assistant coach Herb Brown told The Jersey Journal, “I think it’s terrible, it’s awful. [Someone like] Kevin Garnett doesn’t get hurt by this situation, but the 10th, 11th and 12th man does.” Still, there’s a reason you’re not supposed to shop for groceries when you’re hungry.

Take 22-year-old Cavaliers forward Samardo Samuels, for example. He’s among the rank-and-file NBA players who would have accepted the owners’ final proposal — if the NBPA ever gave him the chance to vote — and does not support Celtics captain Paul Pierce‘s charge to decertify the union.

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Irish Coffee: Uno-Uno and Celtics number 11′s 11.11.11 at 1:00 pm ET
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It’s 11-11-11, and it’s Day No. 134 of the NBA lockout. Hence, the analysis of the No. 11 as it relates to Celtics.

The results aren’t good. Since 1946, there have been 23 seasons when nobody wore No. 11 for the Celtics — and they won 10 titles in those years. While 22 players have worn the No. 11 for the Celtics, no one ever made an NBA All-Star Game in that uniform. Dana Barros did participate in a 3-point contest, but lost in the first round.

The most significant player ever to wear No. 11 for the Celtics is Chuck Cooper, who became the first African-American drafted by an NBA team when the C’s took him in the second round with the 12th overall pick in 1950.

The best player to ever wear No. 11 for the Celtics has to be Bob McAdoo, a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee who played just 20 games in green after C’s owner John Brown pulled the trigger on a deal that sent Tom Barker and three first-round picks to the Knicks.  McAdoo, general manager Red Auerbach and player-coach Dave Cowens all learned of the trade in a newspaper, the ensuing resentment killed the 1978-79 season and they traded McAdoo to the Pistons for M.L. Carr and a pair of first-round picks in the 1980 NBA draft that eventually turned into Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. And the rest is history.

But which player enjoyed the best career in a No. 11 Celtics uniform? Let’s take a look at the 22 candidates.

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